Arriving in the Yukon

June 30th, 2016

It’s hard to believe it is only day four!  Our days have been packed with activity which is making the time fly by.  Tessa and Alycia (our fearless leaders) warned us in our pre-trip workshops to be prepared, as our daily plans could change on a dime…be open to the adventure! Our journey to Whitehorse began on Monday, June 27:

6 am meetup at the Calgary airport, we flew to Vancouver first for a quick layover before boarding again to Whitehorse.  Upon arrival in Whitehorse, we purchased postcards to send home to family and friends.  From there we picked up our rental vehicles to make our way to the Artic Institute of North America (AINA) – the research center we would call home for the next several days.  The Alaska Highway welcomed us with stunning views of the luscious green belt mountains, beautiful purple fireweed (the provincial flower) peppering the landscape, and a warm sun guiding us to AINA.  What should have been a 2.5 hour drive turned into 3.5 hours.  The AINA sign passed us by so quickly, we did not see any arrows or signage for the next half hour.  After a few detours – checking out roads that led to dead ends, or misguided by the appearance of well-kept lavish outhouses (thanks Angélique) – we realized that the first road we attempted was actually the road that led to AINA.  Sooo “60 minutes later, we were actually a minute away” quoted Tessa, lead driver.

This was our first lesson in letting go of concrete plans, and being willing to get lost and explore.  What better place to get lost, than alongside the Kluane Lake where AINA is situated! We finally arrived around 7 pm, where we were greeted by Sian (base manager), the camp dogs, and amazing food.  Settling into our cabins for the night, we attempted our first sleep in “the Yukon” daylight.  Or do I simply say “Yukon”? The debate continues…

Day 2: June 28

Tuesday was our first official day in the Yukon. After breakfast the crew participated in a N.A.P.I. workshop focused on the concept of “community” which lasted till lunch. We then prepared our daypacks for a journey to Haines Junction. Haines Junction is a very small community with an amazing museum/cultural center. We went on a guided tour through the museum where we learned all about the history of the Southern Tuchone peoples including: trade with the Tling’it Nation, the traditional footpaths prior to the construction of roads or the Alaska Highway, and some effects of the residential schools. The second portion of the tour included learning about the mountain ranges and ice fields (glaciers). Fun fact #1: Mount Logan, located in the Yukon, is the tallest mountain in Canada, and is also the largest Massif in the world. In normal people language this means: Mount Logan has the largest mountain mass. Our tour concluded with a visit to the gift shop and a movie about Kluane National Park.

Next stop: The Village Bakery. Here we enjoyed some DELICIOUS cinnamon buns, espresso brownies, and other pastry delights. Fun fact #2: The bakery has a pay phone, a gift shop, and a gallery. Here many of us mailed more postcards. After our snacks we hit the road on route to AINA for supper (which was also delicious). The remainder of the night was filled with much laughter and group bonding over board games and nature walks. It was then time to hit the sack, which is much more difficult than it sounds when the sun is still shining. Goodnight.

Day 3: June 29

Speaking of group bonding, the real team work kicked in on our hike along the beach to Silver City.  An estimated 30 minute leisurely walk and “one” creek crossing, turned into a 60 minute crossing of multiple creeks (we are sure building our “go with the flow” muscle!).  Our leadership skills really had a chance to shine as we trouble-shooted the creek crossings; building mini bridges, delegating tasks and offering a hand for support.

Pauly, the owner of the BnB near Silver City, was patiently awaiting our arrival.  This was our first day of volunteer work.  We raked leaves and cut down dead poplar tress (using hand saws) surrounding the BnB cabins. After completing our tasks Pauly took us on a tour of her land, rich with family history, century old cabins, and Indigenous culture. Our tour progressed up a hill where we ate lunch near the Silver City cemetery, a small plot of land enclosed by a white picket fence.  This location offered us a spectacular view of the mountains surrounding Kluane Lake. We could see why people, like Pauly, have fallen in love with the Yukon. Through story-telling Pauly shared knowledge of her family history. She showed us photographs of her ancestors as well as artifacts passed down from her Indigenous grandmother that sparked our imaginations of a nomadic lifestyle pre-colonization; through the lens of a people who lived off the land.

The walk back along the beach to AINA was breathtaking and it felt good to be outside; hiking around, taking photos and fully submerging our feet in the creeks.  The days’ adventures tuckered most of us out so we napped until dinner and continued the second portion of N.A.P.I level three.

Kristel and Angélique, signing off.

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